Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Jargon of Family Tree

FamilySearch Family Tree was introduced at RootsTech 2012 by Ron Tanner, the project manager. Family Tree is the replacement for the program called New.FamilySearch.org. Although it is characterized as an upgrade to New FamilySearch, it is not just an upgrade but a complete re-write of the program. New.FamilySearch.org essentially goes away. For my part, I will not mourn its passing, to the contrary, I may well celebrate the day.

OK, that was the genealogist talking. In all fairness, the New FamilySearch program has been a great boon to the extremely new-to-genealogy people. It has also been a great motivator, in a negative sort-of way, because of all the errors, many people are much more focused on getting things right and documenting sources. But from my perspective, New FamilySearch has done just about as much in a negative way as it has positive.  It is about time to move on.

If you want some specific information about Family Tree and how to gain access to the program. You can click on the Help menu for FamilySearch.org. You will find several links to documents about the program. Membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not required to use the program.

Family Tree does introduce a new level of jargon. This does not make the program in anyway difficult to use, but in discussing the program there are several key words and phrases that are used to describe the program's features and functions that are particular to the environment in which the program operates.

I have been using Family Tree now for about two months and it is a vast improvement over New FamilySearch. Even though all of the features have yet to be implemented as described in the Users Manual, it solves some of the most vexatious problems of New Family Search. Now on to the jargon. (In case you don't know jargon is defined as special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand). Some of these terms have been taken from a paper written by Ron Tanner.

"Opinions vs. conclusions"  Both of these terms as used in a specific way in conjunction with Family Tree. Conclusions are defined as "a declaration of the most accurate value at this time." The term "opinion" is not specifically defined but the inference from putting the term opposite "conclusions" is that there is some effort involved in forming a conclusion based on an analysis of multiple sources, as opposed to an opinion derived from a superficial examination of limited, compiled or derived sources. The attempt here is apparently to provide a way to provide for the application of the Genealogical Proof Standards to Family Tree entries while at the same time exposing entries based on rank hearsay or insufficient proof.

Family Tree has qualifiers attached to almost every entry. What I mean by this is that with almost every entry, the program provides a place to enter a justification or reason for the entry or for the edited change. The basis of this is a dichotomy between "sourced values vs. attached sources." Attached sources are presumed to be those now in New FamilySearch, where there individuals have a list of attached "sources" that are in no way attached to any particular fact or event other than in a very general way. Family Tree will provide "sourced values" which can be used for more than one individual and are tagged to a specific fact or event. It is not yet clear how far this particular path will go, for example, whether or not the tagged sources will be openly indicated in the context of each event or fact.

One New FamilySearch concept, that of combining individuals, is entirely missing from Family Tree and gratefully so. Seeing all of the separate submissions from hundreds of relatives concerning an individual and the sometimes ridiculous facts entered into the program, made you doubt the utility of trying to arrive at a correct interpretation. Family Tree is going to rectify this issue entirely by eliminating the exhaustive lists of combined individuals and allow duplicates to be merged. With merger, the merged individual will essentially disappear. Whether or not Family Search wants to keep all of that conflicting information in some uber-file, is entirely their business, just as long as we don't have to deal with it anymore.

Family Tree also introduces or relies on existing acronyms such as "AF" and "PRF." Translated to "Ancestral File" and "Pedigree Resource File."  These are among the source for the original data seeded into New FamilySearch. It is enough to say that there will be a mighty pruning of the tree in Family Tree, meaning there will be a huge effort to eliminate most, not all, of the duplicates in the data as it is moved over to Family Tree. By allowing for a true merger of duplicate individuals, the number of duplicates may decrease rather than increase as they have done over the years in New FamilySearch.

New FamilySearch was not a failure. In fact, it may have been a necessary step in the maturation process of moving a vast number of individual submissions into a manageable format. Could New FamilySearch have been avoided? I think without the interim step of New FamilySearch, the Family Tree program would not have been nearly as robust and promising.


3 comments:

  1. It's certainly much cleaner looking, although I imagine there's lots more to come. I'm still seeing multiple versions of, for instance, a marriage date. I'm wondering how this will end up being cleared or whether there will be a long list of the variations as more people add them.

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  2. Will the same programs such as Family Insight that link into New Family Search work with Family Tree?

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  3. Looks as though I have access without registering - must be because I was registered for new.familysearch.org.

    I will start exploring, thanks James.

    It was interesting that the Familysearch people who were in Australia from the US at the national genealogy congress in Adelaide in March did not seem to know about Family Tree and did not mention it when they were telling people about future directions for Familysearch. As I had heard Ron Tanner at Rootstech I was somewhat confused; you have cleared up my confusion. I'm pleased to hear that Family Tree is alive and well.

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